Relapses are hard. They’re scary, and they’re difficult, and you may feel recovery isn’t working. Relapses can make you lose all hope of ever getting better. I had many relapses in recovery, but it was all a part of the learning process! Just remember that nothing is broken! You have to get up and keep going!
Everybody has experienced some sort of relapse in recovery. You’re not alone, and you’re not a failure. You’re a human being just like the rest of us!
The most important thing is to learn from your relapse. What were the warning signs? What triggered you? How can you avoid it next time? If you learn from it, you can brush off the dust and continue along your road to recovery.
So in this video, I will discuss some warning signs that will indicate you are heading towards a relapse. What to look out for and avoid.
1. Restriction of any kind
Sometimes people still do not comprehend fully that restriction will NEVER lead to recovery. If you want a full recovery restriction cannot, ever, be an option for you.
Maybe you are freaked out by the extreme hunger or just the fact that you hunger does not seem fully normal yet and you start to come up with all those reasons why your recovery is different and why you need to “eat intuitively” aka “not more than your eating disorder feels comfortable with”. You only allow yourself to eat until full and do not respond to the extreme hunger or mental hunger because that would be “bingeing” and “wrong” and will only result in “unnecessary” weight gain. This is not healthy and it’s another eating disorder way to make you restrict. You are not following the body but are following your fears about eating and weight gain.
I have to stress that intuitive eating comes after recovery, and you do not have to force it to happen. If you do, it might just be another form of restriction because the recovery symptoms like extreme hunger, bloating, water retention, and digestive issues are just freaking you out.
Another example is that you may feel “ready” – way too soon in your recovery – to start exercising again. You convince yourself that from now on you’re just being “healthy” or you “looove to run” or it’s your “me time.” In some cases, it might be true, but if you find yourself being more and more religious about it, and you feel guilty if you miss a day (or a month or a year) of exercise, it is very likely (and probable) that you’re not doing it for pure fun and enjoyment but because you think you “have to.” In your head, the weight gain in recovery is “unnecessary.”
Or you may start to exercise again despite still having many symptoms of starvation: no menstruation, still feeling cold all the time, gaining weight easily when you eat until fullness, bloating, retaining water, constipation. These are clear signs that you should continue to avoid all exercise and eat, rest, repeat.
2. You start to collect “thinspiration” pictures on your Pinterest account.
This one is just as an example, but I hope you know what I mean in general. If in any way you start to engage in (or you never actually stopped) looking for images, videos of perfect bodies, or health gurus who are skinny, you’re engaging in the eating disorder. You are still doing the things that keep your eating disorder alive. You follow fitness accounts on Instagram or other social media platforms, you look for diet advice to be “lean and healthy,” – blah blah blah. Stop it, you are heading towards a relapse!
3. Focusing on weight loss
I know that water retention and bloating are both very uncomfortable. Gaining ten pounds in a day is a bitch, and you want to make it pass, but you have to let it go and just wait it out! It will even out as long as you do not relapse.
With weight gain – bloating, water retention, indigestion, or real weight gain – most people hope they will be the exception. “Maybe I’ll be different! Maybe I am the unicorn, and I won’t gain weight. Or if I do, it’s not because of healing but because something is very wrong – and I have to eat less!”
But I’m 101% sure you are not different, and weight gain of some sort (yes, even when already weight restored or even overweight) will happen to you in recovery. Why am I so sure? Because it happens simply because you finally stopped all restrictive behaviors. You start eating enough, and your metabolism is still slow, so you will have bloating, water retention, more food in your system, and slower digestion – and all of these factors contribute to weight gain in recovery. But for the most part, it’s not “real” weight gain. Yes, you will gain some real weight like fat, muscle, and bone mass if your body needs it – and if it’s needed, it’s essential, and you can’t do anything about it! But if you choose to go through full recovery – eat enough and stop exercising, purging, and participating in any other restrictive behaviors – your metabolism will go back to normal, and you’ll restore your body’s normal functions. It’s the best thing you can do for your weight!
4. Too much worry about healthy eating
Eating healthy overall is great, and everybody should learn about nutrition basics like eating more whole foods. Concern about our health is normal, and we should definitely pay attention to it, but I’m talking about the extremes here – the type of healthy eating that makes you miserable and unhealthy instead of making you happy and healthy. The kind of eating that puts you in a very tight restrictive box and gives you an eating disorder.
So many of the people who write to me also come from a past of clean eating and orthorexia like tendencies. If they feel their health is not “optimal,” they automatically start to blame their “unhealthy” diet and beat themselves up about the pizza they had a few days ago because that must be the cause of all their crappy symptoms, not the fact that they are recovering from an eating disorder. So this triggers them to “eat clean” from that point on. They might slowly exclude some things from their diet, and little by little, they fall back into the obsession. They see other “health conscious” people posting triggering food photos on Instagram #glutenfreeforlife and automatically feel guilty about what they’re eating. Intuitive eating is quickly forgotten, and instead, it’s hello rules, food fears, and obsessions!
The way I got myself out of this behavior in recovery was to always remind myself that I wanted to keep eating all the foods I genuinely like, and I wanted to continue being an intuitive eater because it was important for my mental health, not just my physical body. Our mind and body are interconnected. They work together. I knew that restricting the “unhealthy” foods actually made me crave them even more in the long run. Restriction made me binge-prone and obsessed. It’s only when I allow all kinds of foods in my diet, with no restriction, that I don’t crave them so often or in as large amounts. I saw that for my physical health, it was wiser to eat them every now and again than to restrict them completely and then have binge episodes, cravings, food-related stress, and obsession.
5. Former triggering eating disorder behaviors
Any diet behavior will trigger you to relapse and can be a sign that you are already relapsing. Weighing and measuring yourself, body-checking, Paleo/low-fat/gluten-free diet recipe searching or following –all of these previous eating disorder behaviors are signs of relapse or impending relapse. Communicating with other eating disordered people who are not recovering can be a trigger for you as can calorie counting to make sure you do not eat “too much” or eating from blue dishes with chopsticks. You know your former disordered behaviors better than anybody so make sure you get them out of your life for good!
6. Trying to be perfect in recovery
It’s important to realize that recovery is not another diet where you fail. Even though I listed here all possible triggers for your eating disorder, I want to tell you that it’s not possible to be one hundred percent perfect in recovery. Erasing all your triggers and going to full recovery with absolutely no setbacks? Maybe it happens in recovery fairyland, but that’s not real life. Recovery is a journey, and all mistakes are learning experiences.
Nobody expects you to be perfect. Be realistic instead! Expecting to be perfect is another sure way to trigger relapse because if something goes wrong (and it will!), you might just give up altogether because you’ll automatically think it isn’t working. It’s the mindset of “Oh well… I screwed up today so I might as well binge and purge for the rest of the night and start tomorrow…”. If you have this mindset in recovery you will already set yourself up for a failure.
If you climb a mountain and fall a few steps back because there were some loose rocks you didn’t expect, it doesn’t mean you have to go all the way back down and start again from ground zero…or you should start intentionally loosening even more rocks because you can start climbing again from “tomorrow” (makes no sense!). Taking a few steps back does not mean you have to start from the beginning… or that you have to make it even worse by quitting recovery today by going into a full-blown ED-mode because you can start “fresh” from tomorrow…(insanity!) Instead, celebrate the road you have traveled thus far in your recovery, and just continue going!